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A Big Move for Space 3D Printing: Vast Acquires Launcher

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In an unexpected move, space habitat pioneer Vast has acquired Launcher, a California-headquartered small launch vehicle manufacturer, for an undisclosed amount. Launcher’s experience developing high-performance rocket engines by partnering with additive manufacturing giants like Velo3D and AMCM is a powerful asset to Vast’s high-stakes mission that aims to develop low-cost, artificial-gravity space stations so that people can live and work in space for long periods of time without the permanent side effects of zero-gravity.

While steadily making progress toward its ambitious goal, Vast has partnered with a global array of customers, including companies from the commercial sector and U.S. and international governments and organizations, for its advanced in-space products. Launcher is the company’s first acquisition, and although the financial terms were not made public, the deal will catapult Launcher Founder and CEO Max Haot to Vast’s leadership as president, with a combined team of over 120 employees who will jointly occupy the recently announced 115,000 square-foot Vast headquarters in Long Beach later this year.

Vast says it is building a 100-meter-long artificial-gravity space station that can house more than 40 people in orbit. While steadily making progress toward this goal, Vast will be partnering with a global array of customers, including from the commercial sector and U.S. and international governments and organizations, for its advanced in-space products.

Living in Zero-G

In the last decade, after growing and selling Livestream to Vimeo, then Mevo to Logitech, Haot started Launcher to make space exploration accessible. The internet entrepreneur and space enthusiast announced news of the acquisition on his LinkedIn account, claiming, “we are going next level.”

“Sometimes you need to adapt your original plan to reach an even greater goal. I couldn’t be more excited to be invited to help Jed McCaleb to lead the combined Launcher and Vast team and build an actual space station,” stated Haot. “I’m so thankful of our investors and team that made this possible. Now, let’s continue to build.”

During a 2019 interview with Haot, found out that Launcher originally set out to capitalize on the demand for small satellites by building a rocket to send the smaller payloads to orbit. At the time, Haot said he wanted to “contribute to space exploration in general” by building “a long-lasting aerospace company.”

Formed in March 2017, Launcher was initially based out of the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York before moving into a 24,000-square-foot building in Hawthorne, California, a few blocks from the headquarters of SpaceX. Although the new headquarters are big enough to support the development of its first 65-foot-tall rocket, the startup’s focus has been on building and testing its E-2 rocket engine, which was made using AMCM’s specialized M4K printer and Velo3D’s Sapphire metal AM system.

Launcher's E-2 engine during test fire. Launcher’s E-2 engine being tested. Image courtesy of Launcher

Notably, the Launcher acquisition provides Vast with an established set of talent to accelerate in-house advanced manufacturing and development capabilities as well as spacecraft technologies. In addition, with Launcher’s Orbiter space tug and hosted payload platform, Vast plans to reach orbit this year to develop and test its on-orbit space station components and subsystems.

Vast will continue the Orbiter space tug and hosted payload products as well as its staged combustion rocket engine E-2 and will focus on liquid rocket engine products instead of developing its own launch vehicle. Orbiter will continue to support current and future payload customers.

Launcher’s Orbiter satellite transfer vehicle and platform. Launcher’s Orbiter satellite transfer vehicle and platform, powered by 3D printed engines, will first hitch a ride with SpaceX in October. Image courtesy of Launcher.

A vast universe

When tech visionary Jed McCaleb decided to take Vast out of stealth mode in 2022, his idea was well received. Renowned for projects such as Stellar, the Astera Institute, Ripple, and eDonkey2000, McCaleb’s new ventures into outer space could be considered the next step in the evolution of space habitation. If successful, the company would become a pioneering force in the revolutionary space economy that has recently started.

Knowing that prolonged exposure to zero gravity results in harmful side effects such as muscle atrophy, bone loss, and even brain damage, ideas like artificial gravity living quarters sound too good to be true. To achieve this, Vast has assembled a team of engineers to create a large spinning structure that could create a gravity-like pull thanks to the centrifugal force.

Rendering of Vast’s artificial gravity space stations. Image courtesy of Vast.

“Our Launcher team jumped at the chance to join Jed’s vision of moving beyond Earth and advancing humanity’s exploration of space,” indicated Haot. “By joining the Vast team, we are able to work with an incredible team of experienced engineering professionals currently at Vast and further pursue and develop our products and technologies to date, including our Orbiter space tug and hosted payload products as well as our high-performance staged combustion rocket engine, E-2.”

With plans to expand from 40 employees to 700 by the end of 2027 and developing a scaled demo module to be launched in the next few years, Vast joins an impressive list of companies in Long Beach, including Rocket Lab and Relativity Space, as well tapping into local resources and jobs, and with Launcher’s background using additive manufacturing we hope to hear more about what it plans to achieve with the technology.

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